With playoff season upon us and the NCHSAA officially releasing the brackets on Saturday, I’ll be taking a look at all 18 first-round matchups that feature a triangle area team. There are 20 teams in 4A East, four in 3A East, and one in 1A East. In total, there are 25 playoff teams in the RDU area with teams from the area competing against each other in seven of the first-round matchups. Of the five major conferences in the area, the DAC-6 led the way with all six of its members earning a bid, followed by the SWAC, GNRC, and NAC-6 with four, and rounding out with the CAP-6 at two bids.

You can view all NCHSAA men’s brackets here.

4A East

(1) New Hanover vs (32) Northern Durham

The 27-0 Wildcats of New Hanover will host the 9-16 Knights of Northern Durham on Tuesday night in what will be a matchup of tough and athletic guard play. The Wildcats have had their dominance relatively taper off a bit over the past couple of weeks, with three of their last four games coming within 20 points, something that happened just six times in their other 21 games. Regardless, New Hanover is the overwhelming favorite in this game as there is too much controlled chaos on their side for the Knights to deal with. Northern has beaten a few quality teams this year, namely (16) Hillside and (15) Riverside, and have the ability to make this one respectable. Coach Angel and New Hanover understand that this is their best chance to emerge out of the east region in quite some time, so don’t expect them to get caught napping anytime soon.

(16) Hillside vs (17) Knightdale

The 17-8 Hornets of Hillside will host the 17-8 Knights of Knightdale in the 16/17 bout in what is arguably the most intriguing game of any in this article. These teams more or less mirror each other in personnel and play style, with Hillside having the best player in the game in Jayde Braswell while Knightdale claims a more proficient overall offense and a deeper bench. Both groups guard the heck out of teams and have a variety of versatile pieces. This game will come down to which unit can hit shots and which coach can make better adjustments in real time. The winner of this game has the talent and athleticism to match up with New Hanover and fans should have that round two game circled on their calendars.

(9) New Bern vs (25) Sanderson

The 17-10 Bears of New Bern will host the 18-8 Spartans of Sanderson in a clash of styles. New Bern is athletic, versatile, and older, with six seniors in their top eight. Sanderson is more tactical, skilled, and methodical, relying on creative sets and high-level decision-making to make up for their lack of size and athleticism. They also rely much more heavily on youth, as they have just one senior in their top seven. Nathan Fife should be the number one priority for New Bern defensively if they want to slow down Sanderson’s offense. Finding a way to make him uncomfortable would pay dividends as far as winning this game is concerned. The key to this game will be if Sanderson can win the boards and handle pressure. If they can do that, they should pull off the upset and move on to the winner of Lumberton and Hoggard.

(5) Chapel Hill vs (28) South View

The 20-6 Tigers of Chapel Hill will host the 15-11 Tigers of South View in a game that is more interesting than its initial perception would allow. South View got their star guard, Antrell Gilmore, back from transfer about a month ago and are 8-5 in games that he’s played (7-3 in games he’s scored 10+ points). Due to this abnormal mid-season addition, it’s safe to assume that South View is better than their resume would suggest, creating a slightly slanted matchup that would theoretically hurt Chapel Hill. Regardless, I don’t think Chapel Hill will have much trouble in this one as they’ve proven to be very capable of beating playoff-caliber teams (16-5 against 3A/4A playoff teams) while South View (4-8 against 3A/4A playoff teams) hasn’t. David Mirikwe will be the best player on the floor for this one and will need to continue to be that for their next game(s) if Chapel Hill wants to make a run.

(12) Panther Creek vs (21) Jordan

The 22-5 Catamounts of Panther Creek will host the 13-12 Falcons of Jordan in a rematch of an early-season contest that heavily favored Panther Creek. The Cats are fresh off an impressive SWAC tournament run in which they knocked off previously undefeated Green Level in the championship game. They have a severe size advantage over the Falcons, which showed its head last game by way of the extreme 2P FG% discrepancy (56% for PC to 32% for Jordan). For the Catamounts to win, they’ll need to exploit physical mismatches early and often while forcing the Falcon defenders into uncomfortable and compromising rotations. For Jordan to win, their guards will have to score at a highly efficient and consistent rate while guys like Bryan, Lowe, and Wells have to protect the rim effectively. This is a very well-coached contest as both Coach Ross and Coach Robinson have an impressive pedigree and a reputation for making quality in-game adjustments.

(13) Clayton vs (20) Holly Springs

The 21-6 Comets of Clayton will host the 18-8 Golden Hawks of Holly Springs in what is probably the most prospect-laden game in this article. Clayton has the size and depth advantage while Holly Springs will have the best player on the floor in Will James Jr. In my opinion, the most interesting point to watch in this game will be how both teams adjust defensively to each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The Hawks will have to effectively guard the two-headed monster of Andrew Grimes and Justice Mitchell while still holding the deep group of Clayton shooters in check. The Comets will have to find a way to hold James Jr. down while not allowing guys like Cackovic, Currie, or Hyatt to get loose. Both teams have their fair share of big game experience this season and are well-seasoned for the type of game that this projects to be. This is an incredibly intriguing game and should come down to the wire regardless of the outcome.

(4) Millbrook vs (29) Jack Britt

The 18-7 Wildcats of Millbrook will host the 16-10 Buccanneers of Jack Britt in the first game of yet another (presumably) deep Millbrook playoff run. The Buccanneers are 3-8 against 3A/4A playoff teams this year while the Wildcats’ “worst” loss came to 17-seed Knightdale. Millbrook is heavily favored in this one, having not lost in the first round of the playoffs since 2007 (!!!), when they lost to Middle Creek by six. Colt Langdon is a top-two player in the region, currently averaging 26.6p and 10r per game with shooting splits of 48/36/83. The winner of this game will play the winner of Clayton/Holly Springs in what is sure to be an elite-level second-round matchup.

(3) Green Level vs (30) Pine Forest

The 26-1 Gators of Green Level will host the 14-12 Trojans of Pine Forest on Tuesday night, with the winner advancing to play the winner of Wakefield and South Garner. Green Level saw their 26-game winning streak end in Friday night’s SWAC championship game against Panther Creek, falling 65-64 in OT in what was an instant classic. Pine Forest has traditionally been a strong program and while they may be in a down year, Coach May has still strung together some solid wins with an intriguing roster at his disposal. 6’6″ senior Nehemiah McDonald has been great this year, nearly averaging a double-double. Freshman Malachi Cooke is an impressive prospect for his age and should turn some heads further down the line. Regardless, the Gators should learn a lot about themselves from Friday night’s loss, allowing them to reset and come into the playoffs more prepared than they would’ve been otherwise. Look for them to make a deep run and flirt with a regional title.

(14) Wakefield vs (19) South Garner

The 21-6 Wolverines of Wakefield will host the 19-6 Titans of South Garner in a first-round matchup with the best combined records of any in this article. As a personal fan of really good basketball, this game piques my interest as much as any first-round game in the state. Both of these teams are balanced, athletic, and well-coached. They both play deeper benches than the average team and have a distinct style that works for them. Wakefield dominates when the ball is moving, shots are falling, and they’re turning up the pressure defensively. Syncere Burnette is a bonafide star and it will be interesting to see how the Titans go about defending him. South Garner has elite size, headlined by 6’10” two-sport star Najai Hines, and does a good job of capitalizing on that advantage on both ends of the floor. How the Wolverines offense adjusts to such a dynamic shot blocker and how the Titans’ big men adjust to the speed at which Wakefield plays will both be intriguing subplots in this one.

(6) Garner vs (27) Heritage

The 20-7 Trojans of Garner will host the 14-11 Huskies of Heritage in yet another intriguing first-round bout. Garner is led by a large ensemble cast featuring Tay Whitner, Cam Reyes, Kingston Beale, Geren Holmes, Keaton Bloms, and Ghab Scott among others. Heritage is led by their junior duo of Levi Beckwith and Jon Mwanda who combined are producing 25.6p, 12.1r, 5.4a, 2s, & 1b per game on the season. Both teams have had interesting seasons with Garner struggling to find their footing early on before finishing the year on a 15-2 run. Heritage seemed to find their stride in the middle of the season, headlined by a nearly two-month stretch where they were 9-1 against in-state opponents, before stumbling a bit and going 4-5 over their last nine games. If the Huskies can both handle pressure and hit shots then they’ll give themselves a chance to win this one. The Trojans have won a playoff game in three of Coach Bloms’ four full seasons (ignoring the COVID-shortened 2021 season) and winning when it matters is in the program’s DNA.

(7) Cardinal Gibbons vs (26) SE Raleigh

The 16-7 Crusaders of Cardinal Gibbons will host the 15-11 Bulldogs of SE Raleigh in a first-round matchup that should provide some interesting matchup problems on both sides. Cardinal Gibbons has a high-powered offense, anchored by CAP-6 Player of the Year, 6’8″ Cash McSweeney. McSweeney will cause mismatches all game for the Bulldogs as they’ll have to double-team him when he gets post touches. Around him, Aiden Smalls, Ronny Turner, Trey Jones, and Damon Phillips each provide high-level play within their role, each forcing defenses to adjust to their specific strengths. The Bulldogs are more versatile across the board with a deep group of athletes who can create for themselves. Should they be able to initiate chaos and speed the pace up consistently, they’ll be right in the mix to pull off the upset.

(15) Riverside-Durham vs (18) Apex Friendship

The 17-9 Pirates of Riverside-Durham will host the 19-7 Patriots of Apex Friendship in a first-round matchup that is an intriguing clash of styles. Riverside has consistently been one of the toughest and most athletic teams in the triangle with a variety of hard-nosed, versatile pieces filling in around their star, Corey Hairston Jr. The Patriots have built their brand on ball movement, player movement, and balance. They haven’t had a consistent “best player” all season and have up to 6-7 guys who can lead them in scoring on any given night. Both teams are relatively even when it comes to size but the Pirates have a bit more athleticism across the board. Riverside should be slightly favored as they have home court advantage and a better resume (wins over Orange, Hillside (3), Chapel Hill, and Jordan) compared to Apex Friendship (best win being over Holly Springs, Pinecrest, and Watauga).

(2) Richmond vs (31) East Chapel Hill

The 21-5 Raiders of Richmond will host the 10-15 Wildcats of East Chapel Hill in round one of Richmond’s campaign to repeat as east regional champions. The Raiders haven’t lost since December and were unstoppable in conference play, with only three of their wins coming within 20 points. East Chapel Hill snuck into the bracket after a strong last couple weeks of the season, in which they pulled off wins against Durham Academy, Jordan, Northern Durham, and Riverside. The bottom line for this game, and for every Richmond playoff game, is simple: don’t bet against Paul McNeil in a win or go home game. McNeil is a frontrunner for Gatorade POY and has proven to be able to will this team to wins by himself when needed.

3A East

(3) Southern Durham vs (30) Southern Nash

The 22-4 Spartans of Southern Durham will host the 10-12 Firebirds of Southern Nash in round one in what should be the start of a deep Southern Durham playoff run. The Spartans are loaded this year, led by 6’5″ junior Jackson Keith who is on his way to winning a third consecutive region POY award. If he wasn’t enough, senior Camren Daniels has been one of the most prolific wings in the triangle this year and provides an excellent 1-2 punch alongside Keith. The duo has a deep and versatile group around them as well, making for one of the more complete rosters in the region. The Firebirds are young and in a rebuilding year as they have just one senior providing meaningful production. This will be a tough matchup for them, but look for them to return to the top of the region across the next couple of seasons.

(6) Southern Lee vs (27) Carrboro

The 22-4 Cavaliers of Southern Lee will host the 11-13 Jaguars of Carrboro in round one on Tuesday night. The Cavs are an astounding 22-1 in games against teams not named Richmond and are undefeated against 3A competition. The Jags remained steadily consistent all year, never going on a streak longer than three games in either direction. Southern Lee has made their name this year by playing good, balanced, and unselfish basketball. They move the rock remarkably well and seem to relish in their teammates’ success. Carrboro is led by sophomore big man Bakari Watkins who is averaging 13p & 6.5r per game this season. The Jaguars have struggled a bit shooting the ball this year but will need to make shots in order to pull off this upset. The winner of this one will play the winner of East Wake and Williams in round two.

(11) East Wake vs (22) Williams

The 21-5 Warriors of East Wake will host the 16-9 Bulldogs of Williams on Tuesday night in what should be a solid litmas test for the red-hot Warriors. East Wake had their 18-game winning streak snapped in last week’s Quad County conference tournament, but that shouldn’t take away from how prolific they’ve been this season. They’re averaging 65 PPG as a team and have five different players averaging at least 8.5 PPG. They’re still relatively young, with just two seniors in their top eight, and are in the first year of the Craig Wilson era. Regardless, expect them to make a strong run this year and in the near future.

(10) Orange vs (23) Currituck County

The 15-11 Panthers of Orange will host the 15-10 Knights of Currituck County in a first round matchup that should be the start of a potential cinderella run from the Panthers. Orange is 13-4 with Cole Cloer in the lineup, with three of those losses coming in the John Wall Holiday Invitational Tournament. Cloer is averaging 25p, 8.5r, 2.4a, and 2.9 stocks per game and has been utterly dominant down the stretch. Picking against him in a playoff game would be a difficult task, especially in the early rounds. The Knights have struggled this year against some of the better teams on their schedule but have still managed to comfortably secure a playoff spot and have the potential to steal a win or two if things go the right way.

1A East

(4) Southern Wake Academy vs (29) River Mill

Southern Wake Academy is in the top tier of 1A teams, both east and west. The biggest task for them will be going to Wilson Prep in the fourth round in an attempt to beat them for a second time this season. Coach Q has the firepower, the depth, and the athletes to make a serious push for a state title in year one and there’s no real reason to doubt their chances to do it. Chris Crudup will be the best player in almost every game they play the rest of the season and if they’re going to go all the way, look for him to elevate himself even further.